Friday, February 29, 2008

Chocolate Berry Tart

Just under the radar, thanks to the extra day this month, I give you this month's Chocolate Therapy challenge: Chocolate Berry Tart

I have never made a dessert tart, so this was a new experience for me. It was surprisingly easy, and beautiful, even easily fixed after my son's hand fell into it! :D

I think there are many possibilities for variations on this tart, and that it makes a great company piece - but also is wonderful for just for fun with the family, since it has lots of fruit, it's got the health factor going sort of.

It is so simple, my son could have done most of it. Bake a shortbread crust, make a chocolate pudding like center, cover with whipped cream and then berries. Why haven't I made this before?

I'm not entirely sure if I made the chocolate pudding part right - it was a very soft set; it didn't hold its shape when cut. And the shortbread crust - well, I've never made shortbread, so I wasn't really sure how to shape it. It all worked out fine in the end though!

(Updated to say that the leftover's held their shape very well the next day before being consumed, so maybe it just needs more than 4 hours!)

What a great recipe for expanding my dessert and chocolate horizons!

Chocolate berry tart

Shortbread crust
makes a single crust
9 1/2 Tbs unsalted butter, room temp
5 Tbs powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 C plus 3 Tbs flour
Cream butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy about 1.5 mins. Add flour and mix until light and fluffy about 2 mins. Gather dough in ball and press into bottom and sides of a 9 or 10 inch tart pan. cook at 300 F for 40-45 mins, let cool before filling.

1 oz unsweetned chocolate
1/2 C plus 2 Tbs semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 C plus 2 Tbs milk
1/2 C plus 2 Tbs heaving cream
1 1/2 Large egg yolks (hold yolk in hand and cut in half with butter knife) at room temp
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp expresso powder (which I leave out, or sub with dutch cocoa)

1/3 C whipping cream (with 1 T sugar and 1/4 tsp vanilla to flavor)
1 pint ripe berries

Chop chocolates fine (food processor 20 seconds). Heat milk and cream in small sauce pan over low heat until JUST boiling, about 5 mins, remove from heat. Add egg yolks, vanilla and powder to chocolate and process. While processor is running pour hot cream and milk and process until chocoalte is melted. Scrape bowl and process a few more seconds. Let cool to lukewarm, about 10 mins, and spread in shell. Chill at lest 4 hours in refrigerator. Before serving whip up cream (and sugar and vanilla) and spread over the tart, distribute berries.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Good Eats Chocolate Truffles

I love to watch Good Eats. The science mixed with good recipes makes for good entertainment at my house. Recently Alton Brown did a series on chocolate and made truffles. Having recently made these, I was interested in his different techniques. I had to try them and see if they made it easier, and they did, even without all the equipment he has. (I don't have a melon baller or ice cream scoop, just a spade!)

I didn't take a photo, which is a horrible shortcoming, and you'll just have to use your imagination, or go look at his photos and believe that mine looked that good. However, these were extremely delicious and yummy. I learned that you want dutch cocoa for rolling the truffles in and also tried crushed peanuts. Very yummy. I also tried the semisweet crunchy coating layer over the ganache, with some success, making them taste even more like fancy store bought truffles. The only thing I changed was that I omitted the alcohol, preferring non alcoholic truffles personally. :)

I also used Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate for the ganache filling and it was worth it! :) Yum! The recipe can be found at this link. Here is an awesome fan page someone made to the show, very helpful in finding recipes and other interesting info.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hot & Sour Soup

Nigella Lawson was an unknown sensation to me until this month. I have watched several episodes of Nigella Express & checked out six different cookbooks to try and learn something about this cooking celebrity that I had missed.

Her cookbooks are fun to read. I especially enjoyed Feast, which was all about special occasion foods. There were many interesting and appealing recipes to pick from, however the one that jumped out to me was a hot & sour soup recipe in Nigella Bites. My DH loves hot & sour soup and yet we've never tried making it at home.

While Nigella assured us that the ingredients were easily obtained at regular supermarkets, it took 3 stores for me to find everything, the tom yam paste being the most difficult. I finally found it at a Chinese supermarket.

Once the ingredients are obtained, the recipe is very quick and simple to assemble and quite delicious. It really qualifies as an express meal that sounds fancy, but is quick and simple, with wonderful flavor.

My apologies for the bad picture! I did use the kaffir lime leaves & lemongrass, obtained at the fancy store here, though all the greenery has sunk to the bottom in my photo, not to mention the way the bowl is all splashy. Sorry! It really looks more appealing in real life!

See the rest of the Weekend cookbook challenge entries this month at this link:

6 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 heaping tablespoon tom yam hot & sour paste
4 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped, optional
1 stick lemongrass, tender inner part only, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lime
4 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
2-3 small jalapenos or fresh red or green chilies, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons straw or button mushrooms, halved or quartered according to size
1 pound 2 ounces peeled raw shrimp, thawed if frozen
5 small scallions, cut into short lengths and then into strips
small bunch cilantro, chopped

Heat stock and tom yam paste in large saucepan with lime leaves, lemongrass, lime juice, fish sauce, chilies and sugar. Bring to a boil, add the mushrooms and simmer for a couple of minutes, then add the shrimp and scallions and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, or until the shrimp are cooked but still tender. Sprinkle with a little cilantro and put more on the table for people to add themselves as they want.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Creme Brulee

I bought a torch this month to use with creme brulee. Mostly because last month on the clearance rack at Williams & Sonoma, I bought a book devoted to creme brulee. I have always loved this dessert at restaurants, the creamy, silky, custard under a cracking sugar shell.

However for my first attempt at the dessert in my own home, I turned to my favorite authoritative source for cooking, Cooks Illustrated. Various creme brulee recipes all have the same basic ingredients: egg yolks, whipping cream, sugar, vanilla beans. The quantity of each and the way in which it is prepared determines how good your recipe turns out. Following Cooks Illustrated recipe, I had total success and we enjoyed silky delicious creme brulee with great flavor. It is so good, and yes, you have to have a torch to finish the tops. Mine happens to be a hardware store version instead of the fancy version at the food stores, but hey, it still worked. :)

Yes, I'm aware that my picture is lame. Sorry. Sometimes eating the food is more important to me than getting an awesome photo.

Classic Creme Brulee

4 cups heavy cream, chilled
2/3 cup granulated sugar
pinch of table salt
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
12 large egg yolks
8-12 teaspoons turbinado sugar

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Combine 2 cups cream, sugar, and salt in medium saucepan; with paring knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean into pan, submerge pod in cream, and bring mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that sugar dissolves. Take pan off heat and let steep 15 minutes to infuse flavors.
3. Meanwhile, place kitchen towel in bottom of large baking dish or roasting pan and arrange eight 4- to 5-ounce ramekins (or shallow fluted dishes) on towel. Bring kettle or large saucepan of water to boil over high heat.
4. After cream has steeped, stir in remaining 2 cups cream to cool down mixture. Whisk yolks in large bowl until broken up and combined. Whisk about 1 cup cream mixture into yolks until loosened and combined; repeat with another 1 cup cream. Add remaining cream and whisk until evenly colored and thoroughly combined. Strain through fine-mesh strainer into 2-quart measuring cup or pitcher (or clean medium bowl); discard solids in strainer. Pour or ladle mixture into ramekins, dividing it evenly among them.
5. Carefully place baking dish with ramekins on oven rack; pour boiling water into dish, taking care not to splash water into ramekins, until water reaches two-thirds height of ramekins. Bake until centers of custards are just barely set and are no longer sloshy and digital instant-read thermometer inserted in centers registers 170 to 175 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes (25 to 30 minutes for shallow fluted dishes). Begin checking temperature about 5 minutes before recommended time.
6. Transfer ramekins to wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Set ramekins on rimmed baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 4 days.
7. Uncover ramekins; if condensation has collected on custards, place paper towel on surface to soak up moisture. Sprinkle each with about 1 teaspoon turbinado sugar (1 1/2 teaspoons for shallow fluted dishes); tilt and tap ramekin for even coverage. Ignite torch and caramelize sugar. Refrigerate ramekins, uncovered, to re-chill, 30 to 45 minutes (but no longer); serve.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Chicken mole & pickled vegetable salad

The Flexitarian Table is my big favorite cookbook find of the past year. I am pretty sure that Every. Single. Recipe. is delicious and amazing. For V-Day I decided to try his Chicken Mole Negro & Pickled Vegetable salad recipe.

If you have never had a mole sauce, you've been missing out IMHO. It is one of my favorites because there's chocolate in it! It is a spicy, flavorful sauce that goes wonderfully on chicken and with rice or masa harina. I served it with rice for simplicity.

The pickled vegetable salad was an adventure for me, but was delicious & easy! I love things that can be mostly completed ahead of time and don't require much prep anyway. That's what this is. Even my kids liked the veggies in this salad, they had so much fun flavor.

I have to admit that I did not like the tempeh mole version as much as I would have expected. Maybe I cooked the tempeh wrong, but it was not nearly as awesome as the chicken mole version. (I always make both the vegetarian and meat eating versions of the meals so we can compare.) It was good, but not mouthwateringly delicious as the chicken. It was kind of dry actually. Hmm.

Well here are the recipes, which I really think you will like. :) Note that this recipe serves 4 adults, you could double the amount of chicken or tempeh if you don't want to make both. Serve with rice or masa.

The vegetables used in the pickled salad are suggestions, you can use other available crunchy vegetables. The chilies give a bit of heat to the brine. The vegetables make a great snack right out of the jar if you don't want to serve it in the salad.

Chicken or Tempeh Mole (from Peter Berley's the Flexitarian Table)
Mole sauce:
1/4 cup Vegetable oil
2 large dried ancho chilies
3 cups hot water
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
1/4 cup blanched whole almonds
1/4 cup raisins
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, seeded
Sea salt or kosher salt
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces or chopped
1 cinnamon stick

1 3 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed
2 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 8 oz packages tempeh, cut into 1 inch squares
1 cup water
1/2 tsp sea salt or kosher salt

Lime wedges, for serving
Chopped cilantro or scallions for garnish

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the ancho chilies and fry, turning with tongs, until they blister, (take care not to burn them.) Transfer to a plate to cool. Set skillet of oil aside.

Meanwhile, season the chicken pieces all over with the salt and pepper and refrigerate for 1 hour.

When the ancho chilies are cool enough to handle, break open and discard seeds. Place chilies in bowl and cover with the hot water. let soak until soft, 15-20 minutes. Drain, reserving soak liquid.

Return skillet to medium heat and add the onions and cook, stirring until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the peanuts, almonds, raisins, and all the seeds and toast until nuts and seeds are fragrant and raisins are puffed, 8-10 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, scrap contents of pan into a blender and set skillet aside. Add chipotle chilies, 1 tsp salt and softened ancho chilies and 1 cup of soaking liquid. Puree, gradually adding remaining liquid, until mixture is smooth.

Return mixture to skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Add cinnamon stick, reduce heat to low and simmer gently until mole thickens, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and discard cinnamon stick. Season with additional salt to taste and set aside.

Wick moisture from chicken with paper towels. In heavy 10 inch skillet or 3 qt casserole, heat oil over medium heat and add chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until lightly browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. Pour in half the mole and simmer until the chic ken is cooked through, about 20 more minutes.

Meanwhile, in another skillet or casserole, heat oil over medium heat and add the tempeh and cook, turning frequently until lightly browned all over, about 10 minutes. Add the water and salt to the pan and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer for 8 minutes.

Drain tempeh and return to pan, pour in remaining mole and bring to a simmer, simmer covered for 20 minutes.

Serve the mole garnished with chopped cilantro or scallions and lime wedges.

Pickled Vegetable salad
4 cups water
2/3 cup cider vinegar
3 Tbsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
5-6 small dried red chilies or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 medium cauliflower, cut into florets
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and sliced
1/4 medium head red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced

1 large bunch arugula or 1 head butter lettuce, trimmed or cored and torn for serving
Extra virgin olive oil for serving
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, toss together vegetables. Transfer them to a 2 quart jar and cover with brine. Cover jar and refrigerate for at least 2 days and up to 4 months. To serve: gloss the arugula or lettuce with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss with some of the pickled vegetables.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Grapefruit Marmalade & Spiced Blueberry Jam

I have tried several new recipes in the past few weeks, some have been successes, some not so much...but my favorite thing has been making marmalade & jam! I spent part of last fall lamenting that I hadn't canned any jam that summer due to moving, and trying to make orange marmalade that never totally jelled. I knew I should try again, but I had no desire until I actually felt I had to buy some jam since we ran out of apple butter, and I had nothing besides the "marmalade" and my boys don't love it like I do.

Then comes the discovery that Alton Brown has 2 winter jam recipe possibilities! Spiced blueberry jam from frozen berries & cranberry jam from cranberries! How exciting. :) Unfortunately, we'd already eaten all the cranberries I bought and there aren't any more at the store, but frozen blueberries were quickly obtained at the bulk store for a decent price.

His blueberry jam is flavored with freshly ground star anise & nutmeg. The anise smells like licorice, and adds a fun twist to the jam recipe. It is delicious jam and he wrote the recipe fairly thoroughly. The recipe can be found at this link.

Then one of my favorite food bloggers, Mercedes, wrote about a Grapefruit marmalade with vanilla and I had to try it. I have never had grapefruit marmalade and she raved about the flavor that the vanilla added. It was a long, slow cooked marmalade, and came out wonderfully. But the vanilla flavor was a bit odd to DH & I, so I made another batch without the vanilla, and the differences are fascinating. While the vanilla flavored marmalade is almost too sweet, but delicious in a unique way, the one without is delicious and full bodied from the long slow simmer. I really like it and think I will adapt the idea of it to orange marmalade. It is an excellent way to use all the awesome local grapefruit and oranges we have here in TX.

The result has been some satisfying restocking of the jam supply in our home, and my boys are delighted with the blueberry jam. I will have to make more soon I'm sure!


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